September 11th: The Port Authority Police Department Story
Of the many difficult days for the PAPD officers at Ground Zero, perhaps the most difficult was the day when their mission officially went from "search and rescue" to "search and recovery." No one wanted to believe that there were no more survivors. The cops had seen the loved ones of the missing clinging to the edges of the site, at first waiting for miracles, then just longing for closure. The PAPD officers assigned to the site felt that it was their responsibility to account for all those who had died in their house.
By winter the fires had finally subsided. The cleanup efforts were in full swing as police and firefighters sifted every spoonful of dust and debris, searching for human remains in the largest domestic crime scene of all time. Trucks removed ton after ton of rubble, and as the pile diminished, Ground Zero took on the aspect of a giant crater.
One steel girder was left standing where the lobby of the South Tower had been. It marked the spot where 58 bodies had been recovered and stood tall until the very end. On May 30, 2002, the day that the site was officially closed, the girder was laid to rest, shrouded in black cloth and draped in a flag like a body. It was carried out on a flat-bed truck escorted by police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians on foot. During the months of cleanup, workers at the site had taken it upon themselves to paint the initials of their departments and agencies on the girder along with the number of people they had lost on September 11. At the very top, spray-painted in blue on a white background was "PAPD 37."
Thirty-seven Port Authority police officers perished trying to save the lives of others. No other police force has ever lost as many officers in a single event.
Today the PAPD looks to the future, determined to be ever vigilant. Those who worked on the pile say that their job now is to train the next generation. In 2002, the PAPD added more than 400 new recruits to their ranks.